By on March 18, 2010

Gawker reports that Toyota Motor Sales has sent a letter to ABC News President David Westin, requesting that Brian Ross’s report on unintended acceleration in Toyotas be retracted. Gawker had previously uncovered Ross’s deceptive video editing, and Toyota’s complaint built on allegations first raised by the website. Ross’s reliance on Professor David Gilbert and Sean Kane of the Safety Research & Strategies also received a withering attack from Toyota General Counsel Christopher Reynolds. Kane and Gilbert’s financial relationship with several law firms pursuing suits against Toyota was revealed during congressional hearings, and Gilbert’s research has been insistently refuted by Toyota, none of which was mentioned in the ABC report.

Reynolds wraps up his letter with gusto:

Brian Ross is on a “long-planned vacation,” according to ABC News, and “our lawyers are looking at it, and we will respond.” But did he take a private jet?

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17 Comments on “Brian Ross To Explain Video Stunt After “Planned Vacation”...”

  • avatar
    crash sled

    A thinly-veiled threat from Toyota. I love it. The media are a bunch of idiots (TTAC excluded, of course), and hardball is all they understand:

    “If our customers are gonna sue us for a sudden depreciation on our vehicles, then those who falsely made claims and broadcast them will also be held accountable, and will share in the payment of those judgments.”

    If I were ABC, I’d be lining up the Mother of All Retractions. That’s exactly what their lawyers are telling them right now, I suspect. ABC is going bankrupt as it is, the last thing they need is a nice little $1B judgment against them.

  • avatar

    The initial allegation is loudly stated at the start of the broadcast, the retraction is always mumbled over the closing credits.

    Pyrrhic victory for Toyota, but better than yet another lawsuit from shareholders suing for losses because Toyota didn’t aggressively defend their reputation.

    Deserving or not, they just can’t catch a break

  • avatar

    I won’t lie, I’m from Detroit and I’m glad to see Toyota struggling but that “reporting” from Ross is the worst type of journalism. I wish Toyota was in a better position PR-wise to rebuff that type of nonsense.
    I hate when people blame the media for their problems, it seems like the easiest way to scapegoat. But then you’ve got sham journalist like Ross that clearly want to hype the fear factor just for ratings. It undermines the fact that Toyota could have serious problems.

  • avatar

    The problem lies in the fact that the media can report rumor or speculation with no liability or recourse and the manufacturers have to cross all the Ts and dot all the Is before they can even consider defending themselves. If Toyota came back with a hardline, immediate response and then it was found that there was a defect in the ECU/throttlebody/ect, they’d be destroyed. Basically, one group gets to do and say as they please and the other group has to carefully plan every single word for fear of a misstep… and eventually tarnished reputation and litigation.

  • avatar

    ABC aired that report after a group of Toyota’s dealers threatened to pull ads. It would be unprecedented for ABC to apologize so they likely won’t. The most Toyota can do is make weak threats, and pull ads, neither will hurt ABC in any way.

    • 0 avatar

      Toyota can sue. For libel for instance.With millions of recalls going, damages are easy to prove. GM sued NBC over the fake 60 Minute program and won a settlement. NBC paid “unspecified costs.”

    • 0 avatar

      I didn’t know GM sued NBC. The Wikipedia article doesn’t say if GM got anything more than that apology though, and it doesn’t appear that NBC had the same strength that ABC has. ABC’s parent company Disney has a strong legal arm.

    • 0 avatar

      Boston Globe, Feb 10, 1993:

      ” NEW YORK — A day after being sued by General Motors Corp. for defamation, NBC News last night settled the suit and apologized over the air for hiding incendiary devices in a GM truck used in a simulated crash.

      A spokeswoman for NBC said the settlement had two terms: the public retraction, read shortly before 11 p.m. by Jane Pauley, anchorwoman for “Dateline NBC”; and the payment of “unspecified costs in connection with GM’s investigation” of the network report, which was aired on Nov. 17, 1992.”

      These libel cases can get quite costly. Most of them are settled before the matter goes to court, and you will never hear about it, because both parties agree to not disclose anything.

  • avatar

    ABC guilty of rigging an auto safety report, just like CBS 60 minutes did with Audi, and NBC Dateline with the GM pickup.

    Scientific evidence shows California Prius was a hoax. And now word today from NHTSA that NY Prius accident is proven to be driver error.

    This is just over hyped journalism, and anti capitalism.

  • avatar

    This Toyota thing is looking more like the Audi 5000 scare by the day. It has all the components of it: It has a popular import brand getting the hammer whilst the big three are struggling. It has a small (or in Audi’s case, non-existant) problem getting blown massively out of proportion by idiots who probably pulled their licenses out of a box of Corn Flakes. It has the media latching on to one traumatic, sob story (With Toyota it was the family dieing in the Lexus wreck, with Audi it was the suburban mom who accidentally ran over son), eventually leading to mass-hysteria amplified by a bunch of clowns who start crawling out of the woodwork, telling stories about how their cars accelerated out of control, in nothing more than a pathetic (and unfortunately, successful) attempt to get on TV. (Jim Sikes, anyone?) It all culminates with a major network evening news program airing a staged scare piece, showing a specially modified car repeating the vaulted problem. (With Toyota, it is ABC and them causing the revs to shoot up by crossing wires on the throttle computer, with Audi it was CBS’ 60 Minutes and them causing a 5000 to take off on its own by pumping compressed air into the transmission). The manufacturer manages to defend itself and makes the network retract its story, and eventually America realizes that the whole scare was over nothing.

    The only thing I don’t exactly buy yet is all this talk that the whole Toyota scare was manufactured by the government in an attempt to tilt the playing field in favor of Government Motors. Even though all the grandstanding by the politicians certainly didn’t help matters, this whole scare was more-or-less just a case of the media doing what it does best. Isn’t just a funny coincidence that even though Toyota has been issuing UA recalls since fall of last year, it didn’t become a media circus until shortly after the Swine flu was deemed a non-issue?

    The media always manages to find one central “scare” that drives all the news stories for a period of time, then once it dies down, they move onto something else. This thing with Toyota is no different than the Wast Nile scare back in 2000, or the huge terrorism scare that played out after 9/11, or the scare over pedophiles using MySpace, or as I mentioned above, the scare over Swine flu. The Toyota scare is just the latest fad and with clowns like Jim Sikes getting exposed as fakes, and the media moving on to new stories (like Sandra Bullock splitting up with Jesse James), this whole Toyota thing is going to blow over by the end of the month.

    • 0 avatar

      The only thing I don’t exactly buy yet is all this talk that the whole Toyota scare was manufactured by the government in an attempt to tilt the playing field in favor of Government Motors. Even though all the grandstanding by the politicians certainly didn’t help matters, this whole scare was more-or-less just a case of the media doing what it does best…

      I agree that there likely wasn’t a conscious conspiracy hatched within the U.S. Government to bring down Toyota, but you can’t deny the fact that there was some incentive on the part of the congressmen to ‘protect their own’. I think you have a confluence of factors here- an ‘us versus them’ trade story, the “helpless victims” you mentioned, a poster child for the story who should have known exactly what to do in an emergency, and a relative vacuum in the news (how many times can network news outlets tell us that there’s still an ongoing pissing match over health care). All this pressure from various sources happened to be pointed in the same direction, and the result was that the story blew up.

      The really funny part will be in six months when Toyota is still offering incentives, so the Detroit Three will be crying that they’re losing money again by trying to match them.

  • avatar

    It’s disgusting to see how cavalier ABC and Ross are about this blatant slander. I’d love to see the book thrown at them, but I suspect it’ll end up just like CBS with the Audi 5000 debacle.

  • avatar

    It never fails to amaze me that people think the media have any obligation to report the “truth.” That’s not in any law anywhere.
    Unless you actually cross the line to slander (and I think ABC did) you can broadcast whatever you want.
    The media BUSINESS exist only to make money. They do that by selling advertising. They sell advertising by attracting eyeballs in any way possible. The media is not a charity, not an objective party, have no “civic duty” etc etc. There is no reason to believe anything the media reports.

    • 0 avatar

      Agreed – most people think that the news media’s product is the “truth”, the “story”, etc., and that the customers are themselves, the audience.

      The reality is that we the audience are the product – the media’s role is to deliver us to its customers, which are advertisers. Anything that sells, leads.

    • 0 avatar
      crash sled

      And I guess ABC News thinks that the woman who allegedly killed her 2-year old daughter in Florida was important enough for them to pay her $200,000 to get her story:

      The media wants sensationalism, forever and always. Ignore them, and seek out the truth elsewhere, because they’re not interested in the truth. They want blood and eyeballs, as mentioned above, and will pay for it if necessary.

  • avatar
    Mr Carpenter

    Precisely why I virtually NEVER look at mainstream “media” any more.

    The scales fell off my eyes decades ago, in fact.

    I rely upon TONS of different internet views – virtually all of them “non-mainstream” – to help inform my view of what is happening in the real world.

    Far more reliable (though of course imperfect because of being run by fallable humans).

    The more directions that I can look at a given subject, the better informed I feel.

  • avatar

    I’d have to say that after the Sike’s and New York Nanny frauds, and quick action on Toyota’s Smart team investigators, that news stories about “out of control” Toyota’s will now “suddenly disappear”. The fear factor that was so obviously exploited by news organizations has now been used to great effect on them. The reason being that there is not a single major news network on the planet that wants its name tied to a false news story it covered. Fear? They’d rather run naked and blindfolded through a razor blade factory before the manner in which they reported the news becomes the story itself, instead of the news they were trying to report. You can bet that every news CEO and editor in the nation is now gun shy. If and when the next Toyota “out of control” story reaches their desks it will be strictly “off limits”, count on it.
    Unofficially, the Toyota recall stories have now stopped because the fear they used so well on a nation was finally used against them.

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